Having seen how vicious and corrupt the court was, we now come to enquire how it is with the country, and we find that to be no better; and no marvel if the distemper that has so seized the head affect the whole body, so that there is no soundness in it; the iniquity of Ephraim is discovered, as well as the sin of Samaria, of the people as well as the princes, of which here are divers instances.
I. They were not peculiar and entire for God, as they should have been, Hos. 7:8. 1. They did not distinguish themselves from the heathen, as God had distinguished them: Ephraim, he has mingled himself among the people, has associated with them, and conformed himself to them, and has in a manner confounded himself with them and lost his character among them. God had said, The people shall dwell alone; but they mingled themselves with the heathen and learned their works, Ps. 106:35. They went up and down among the heathen, to beg help of one of them against another (so some); whereas, if they had kept close to God, they would not have needed the help of any of them. 2. They were not entirely devoted to God: Ephraim is a cake not turned, and so is burnt on one side and dough on the other side, but good for nothing on either side. As in Ahab’s time, so now, they halted between God and Baal; sometimes they seemed zealous for God, but at other times as hot for Baal. Note, It is sad to think how many, who, after a sort, profess religion, are made up of contraries and inconsistencies, as a cake not turned, a constant self-contradiction, and always in one extreme or the other.
II. They were strangely insensible of the judgments of God, which they were under, and which threatened their ruin, Hos. 7:9. Observe, 1. The condition they were in. God was not to them, in his judgments, as a moth and as rottenness; they were silently and slowly drawing towards the ruin of their state partly by the encroachments of foreigners upon them: Strangers have devoured his strength, and eaten him up; they have wasted his wealth and treasure, lessened his numbers, and consumed the fruits of the earth. Some devoured them by open wars (as 2 Kgs. 13:7; when the king of Syria made them like the dust by threshing), others by pretending treaties of peace and amity, in which they extorted abundance of wealth from them, and made them pay dearly for that which did them no good, but which afterwards they paid more dearly for, as 2 Kgs. 16:9. This Ephraim got by mingling with the heathen, and suffering them to mingle with him; they devoured that which he rested upon and supported himself with. Note, Those that make not God their strength (Ps. 52:7) make that their strength which will soon be devoured by strangers. They were thus reduced partly by their own mal-administrations among themselves: Yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him (are sprinkled upon him, so the word is), that is, the sad symptoms of a decaying declining state, which is waxing old and ready to vanish away, and the effects of trouble and vexation. Cura facit canos—Care turns gray. The almond-tree does not as yet flourish, but it begins to turn colour, which speaks aloud to him that the evil days are coming, and the years of which he shall say, I have no pleasure in them, Eccl. 12:1, 5. 2. Their regardlessness of these warnings: He knows it not; he is not aware of the hand of God gone out against him; it is lifted up, but he will not see, Isa. 26:11. He does not know how near his ruin is, and takes no care to prevent it. Note, Stupidity under less judgments is a presage of greater coming.
III. They went on frowardly in their wicked ways, and were not reclaimed by the rebukes they were under (Hos. 7:10): The pride of Israel still testifies to his face, as it had done before (Hos. 5:5); under humbling providences their hearts were still unhumbled, their lusts unmortified; and it is through the pride of their countenance that they will not seek after God (Ps. 10:4); they do not return to the Lord their God by repentance and reformation, nor do they seek him by faith and prayer for all this; though they suffer for going astray from him, though it can never be well with them till they come back to him, and though they have in vain sought to others for relief, yet they think not of applying to God.
IV. They were infatuated in their counsels, and took very wrong methods when they were in distress (Hos. 7:11, 12): Ephraim is like a silly dove without heart. To be harmless as a dove, without gall, and not to hurt or injure others, is commendable; but to be sottish as a dove, without heart, that knows not how to defend herself and provide for her own safety, is a shame.
1. The silliness of this dove is, (1.) That she laments not the loss of her young that are taken from her, but will make her nest again in the same place; so they have their people carried away by the enemy, and are not affected with it, but continue their dealings with those that deal barbarously with them. (2.) That she is easily enticed by the bait into the net, and has no heart, no understanding, to discern her danger, as many other fowls do, Prov. 1:17. She hastes to the snare, and knows not that it is for her life (Prov. 7:23); so they were drawn into leagues with neighbouring nations that were their ruin. (3.) That, when she is frightened, she has not courage to stay in the dove-house, where she is safe, and under the careful protection of her owner, but flutters and hovers, seeking shelter first in one place, then in another, and thereby exposes herself so much the more; so this people, when they were in distress, sought not to God, did not fly like the doves to their windows where they might have been secured from all the birds of prey that struck at them, but threw themselves out of God’s protection, and then called to Egypt to help them, and went in all haste to Assyria, to seek for that aid in vain which they might, by repentance and prayer, have found nearer home, in their God. Note, It is a silly senseless thing for those who have a God in heaven to trust to creatur 3c0b es for the refuge and relief which are to be had in him only; and those that do so are a people of no understanding, they are without heart. Now,
2. See what becomes of this silly dove (Hos. 7:12): When they shall go to Egypt and Assyria, I will spread my net upon them. Note, Those that will not abide by the mercy of God must expect to be pursued by the justice of God. Here, (1.) They are ensnared: “I will spread my net upon them, bring them into straits, that they may see their folly and think of returning.” Note, It is common for those that go away from God to find snares where they expected shelters. (2.) They are humbled; they soar upward, proud of their foreign alliances and confiding in them; but I will bring them down, let them fly ever so high, as the fowls of heaven, that are shot flying. Note, God can and will bring those down that exalt themselves as the eagle, Obad. 1:3, 4. (3.) They are made to smart for their folly: I will chastise them. Note, The disappointments we meet with in the creature, when we put a confidence in it, are a necessary chastisement, or discipline, that we may learn to be wiser another time. (4.) In all this the scripture is fulfilled. It is as their congregation has heard; they have been many a time told by the word of God, read, and preached, and sung, in their religious assemblies, that “vain is the help of man, that in the son of man there is no help; they have heard both from the law and from the prophets what judgments God would bring upon them for their wickedness; and as they have heard now they shall see, they shall feel.” Note, It concerns us to take notice of the word of God which we hear from time to time in the congregation, and to be governed by it, for we must shortly be judged by it; and it will justify God in the condemnation of sinners, and aggravate it to them, that they have had plain public warning given them of it; it is what their congregation has heard many a time, but they would not take warning. “Son, remember thou wast told what would come of it; and now thou seest they were not vain words.” See Zech. 1:6.
V. They revolted from God and rebelled against him, notwithstanding the various methods he took to retain them in their allegiance, Hos. 7:13-15. Here observe,
1. How kindly and tenderly God had dealt with them, as a gracious sovereign towards a people dear unto him, and whose prosperity he had much at heart. He had redeemed them (Hos. 7:13), brought them, at first, out of the land of Egypt, and, since, delivered them out of many a distress. He had bound and strengthened their arms, Hos. 7:15. When their power was weakened, like an arm broken or out of joint, God set it again, and bound it, as a surgeon does a broken bone, to make it knit. God had given Israel victories over the Syrians (2 Kgs. 13:16, 17), had restored their coast (2 Kgs. 14:25, 26), had girded them with strength for battle. “Though I have chastened them” (so the margin reads it), “sometimes corrected them for their faults and thereby taught them, at other times strengthened their arms and relieved them, though I have used both fair means and foul to work upon them, it was all to no purpose; they were mercy-proof and judgment-proof.”
2. How impudent their conduct had been towards him notwithstanding, which is described here for the conviction and humiliation of all those who have gone on in any way of wickedness, that they may see how exceedingly sinful their sin is, how heinous, how the God of heaven interprets it, how he resents it. (1.) He had courted them to him, and taken them into covenant with himself; but they fled from him, as if he had been their dangerous enemy who had always approved himself their faithful friend. They wandered from him, as the silly dove from her nest, for those who forsake God will find no rest nor settlement in the creature, but wander endlessly. They fled from God when they forsook the worship of him, and ran away from his service, and withdrew themselves from their allegiance to him. (2.) He had given them his laws, which were all holy, just, and good, by which he designed to keep them in the right way; but they transgressed against him; they sinned with a high hand and a stiff neck, wilfully and presumptuously (so the words signifies); they broke through the fence of the divine law, and therein thwarted the design of the divine love. (3.) He had made known his truths to them, and given them all possible proofs of the sincerity of his good-will to them; and yet they spoke lies against him. They set up false gods in competition with him; they denied his providence and power; thus they belied the Lord, Jer. 5:12. They rejected his messages sent them by his prophets, and said that they should have peace, though they went on in sin, directly against what he said. In their hypocritical professions of religion, shows of devotion, and promises of amendment, they lied to the Lord, which he took as lying against him. (4.) He was their rightful Lord and King, and had always ruled in Jacob with equity, and for the public good; and yet they rebelled against him, Hos. 7:14. They not only went off from him, but took up arms against him, would have deposed him if they could and set up another. (5.) He designed well for them, but they imagined mischief against him, Hos. 7:15. Sin is a mischievous thin; it is mischief against God, for it is treason against his crown and dignity; not that the sinners can do any thing to hurt their Creator (as one of the ancients observes on these words), but what they can they do; and it is so much the worse when it is not done by surprise, or through inadvertency, but designedly and with contrivance. The Jews have a saying, which Dr. Pocock quotes here, The thoughts of transgression are worse than the transgression. The designing of mischief is doing it, in God’s account. Compassing and imagining the death of the king is treason by our law. Those that imagine an evil thing, though it prove a vain thing (Ps. 2:1), will be reckoned with for the imagination.
3. How they shall be punished for this (Hos. 7:13): Woe unto them! for they have fled from me. Note, Those who flee from God have woes sent after them, and are, without doubt, in a woeful case. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against them; the word of God says, Woe to them! And observe what follows immediately, Destruction unto them! Note, The woes of God’s word have real effects; destruction makes them good. The judgments of his hand shall verify the judgments of his mouth. Those whom he curses, and pronounces woeful, they are cursed, they are woeful indeed.
VI. Their shows of devotion and reformation were but shows, and in them they did but mock God.
1. They pretended devotion, but it was not sincere, Hos. 7:14. When the hand of God had gone forth against them they made some sort of application to him. When he slew them, then they sought him. Lord, in trouble have they visited thee. But it was all in hypocrisy. (1.) When they were under personal troubles, and called upon God in secret, they were not sincere in that: They have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds. When they were chastened with pain upon their beds, and the multitude of their bones with strong pains, perhaps ill of the wounds they received in war, they cried, and groaned, and complained in the forms of devotion, and, it may be, they used many good words, proper enough for the circumstances they were in; they cried, God help us, and, Lord, look upon us. But they did not cry with their heart, and therefore God reckons it as no crying to him. Moses is said to cry unto God when he spoke not a word, only his heart prayed with faith and fervency, Exod. 14:15. These made a great noise, and said a great deal, and yet did not cry to God, because their hearts were not right with him, not subjected to his will, devoted to his honour, nor employed in his service. To pray is to lift up the soul to God, this is the essence of prayer. If this be not done, words, though ever so well chosen, are but wind; but, if it be, it is an acceptable prayer, though the groanings cannot be uttered. Note, Those do not pray to God at all that do not pray in the spirit. Nay, God is so far from approving their prayer and accepting it that he calls it howling. Some think it intimates the noisiness of their prayers (they cried to God as they used to cry to Baal, when they thought he must be awakened), or the brutish violent passions which they vented in their prayers; they snarled at the stone, and howled under the whip, but regarded not the hand. Or it denotes that their hypocritical prayers were so far from being pleasing to God that they were offensive to him; he was angry at their prayers. The songs of the temple shall be howlings, Amos 8:3. God will be so far from pitying them that he will justly laugh at their calamity, who have so often laughed at his authority. (2.) When they were under public troubles, and met together to implore God’s favour, in that also they were hypocritical; they assembled themselves, for fashion-sake, because it was usual to call a solemn assembly in times of general mourning, Zeph. 2:1. But it was only to pray for corn and wine that they came together, which were the things they wanted, and feared being deprived of by the want of rain, the judgment they now laboured under. They did not pray for the favour or grace of God, that God would give them repentance, pardon their sins, and turn away his wrath, but only that he would not take away from them their corn and wine. Note, Carnal hearts, in their prayers to God, covet temporal mercies only, and dread and deprecate no other but temporal judgments, for they have no sense of any other.
2. They pretended reformation, but neither was that sincere, Hos. 7:16. Here is, (1.) The sin of Israel: They return, that is, they make as if they would return; they pretend to repent and amend their doings, but they make nothing of it; they do not come home to God nor return to their allegiance, whereas God says (Jer. 4:1), If thou wilt return, O Israel! return to me; do not only turn towards me, but return to me. This dissimulation of theirs makes them like a deceitful bow, which looks as if it were fit for business, and is bent and drawn accordingly, but, when strength comes to be laid to it, either the bow or the string breaks, and the arrow, instead of flying to the mark, drops at the archer’s foot. Such were their essays towards repentance and reformation. (2.) The sin of the princes of Israel. That which is charged upon them is the rage of their tongue, quarrelling with God and his providence and with all about them when they are crossed. Princes think they may say what they will, and that it is their prerogative to huff and bluster, to curse and rail, and to call names at their pleasure, but let them know there is a God above them that will call them to an account for the rage of their tongues and make their own tongues to fall upon them. (3.) The punishment of Israel and their princes for their sin. As for the princes, they shall fall by the sword either of their enemies or of their own people, some by one and some by the other; and this shall be their derision, this is that for which they shall be derided in the land of Egypt, when they flee to the Egyptians for succour, Hos. 7:11. Their sin and punishment shall make them a laughing-stock to all about them. Note, Those that are treacherous and deceitful in their dealings with God, and passionate and outrageous in their conduct towards men, will justly be made a derision to their neighbours, for they make themselves ridiculous.